I often hear people exclaim with frustration (and a bit of self-damnation), “I’m not doing enough yoga!” Perhaps they’re not attending as many yoga classes as usual, so they feel disturbance in the body and/or mind.
But, what does “doing enough yoga” mean?
Because yoga is much more than asana practice, I believe we are doing more than we realize. Chances are, if we’re aware enough to notice a difference – if we care that our shoulders are slumping, our work days are unfocused or our relationships are strained – we are, indeed, doing enough.
In my opinion, it’s all yoga. If we live with sincere intention, a willingness to grow and an awareness of our small part in the big picture, we are “doing yoga.”
According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (the ancient scriptures of Raja Yoga, or, the science of the mind), the goal of yoga is to free the mind of distraction. Our asana practice is a small part of this – there are seven additional limbs described in the Sutras, and practicing these limbs is a process of developing that distraction-free mind. A process! What a relief. A peaceful mind does not happen overnight.
The eight limbs include: Yama (abstinence), Niyama (observance), Asana (posture), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (oneness, liberation). We cycle through these limbs in patient and gradual development – it’s progress, not perfection. We take one step forward, two steps back at times. By starting with the ethical, transitioning through the physical then deepening through the mental, we are eventually liberated.
In this case, if we are “doing enough yoga,” we are healthy, we feel serene and life is effortless. Kind of like an athlete in “The Zone.”
Whereas the Sutras’ Eight Limbs explore the mind, Integral Yoga’s six branches address the entire life of an individual. Founded by Sri Swami Satchidananda, the Integral Yoga (IY) approach includes: Hatha (physical development), Raja (which, as within the Eight Limbs, includes ethics and philosophy), Bhakti (devotion to, service to and love of a higher power), Karma (acts of selfless service), Jnana (self-analysis and psychology) and Japa (mantra repetition). IY is an ideological synthesis for the development of the whole person.
Again, lots of opportunities to “do yoga” – with the IY approach, we access the Eight Limbs’ health, serenity and bliss…and live responsibly in the world.
Sutra 2.28 says, “By practice of the limbs, impurities dwindle away and there dawns the light of wisdom, leading to discriminative discernment.” This is a promise, and reminds me of the third line of the old classic Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Yoga’s process leads to discriminative discernment. What a gift!
So, the next time you are about to chastise yourself for “not doing enough yoga,” take a discerning pause to remember the process of yoga’s Eight Limbs and the synthesis of Integral Yoga’s six branches. Then ask yourself, “Was I of service to someone today (Karma Yoga)? Did I avoid harmful actions (Limb #1, Yama)? Did I pray to some higher power (Bhakti Yoga)? Did I practice deep breathing (Limb #4, Pranayama)? Were my actions ethical (Raja Yoga)? Did I ponder my purpose in life (Jnana Yoga)?” And so on.
My guess is, you are doing more yoga than you think.
The physical, psychological and spiritual benefits of practicing the Eight Limbs and/or Integral Yoga are immense. So give yourself credit for living with good intention, being aware of the world around you and taking time to connect with the universe. It’s all yoga.
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